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The week of November 20th-24th last year was marked in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as ‘Innovation Week’. There was a plethora of activities taking place in companies, government offices and schools, all in a bid to encourage innovation and to help in the UAE’s continuous bid to become one of the most innovative countries on earth. I must say that I find this to be a very noteworthy ambition. Given the fact that our future generations will face new and very challenging problems, the likes of which, we have not seen before; we ought to be ensuring that our students are as innovative as they can be.

During Innovation Week, I overheard one teacher telling another that she is about to teach innovation and it made me think. Can teachers really teach innovation or can they merely foster it? I am open to a discussion on this, but I strongly believe that as educators, we can only facilitate innovation. I would like to suggest some of the ways in which schools can do this.

Give teachers space to try new things

Teachers in general are very innovative, if they are given the space to experiment. One of the major setbacks to innovation is a lack of freedom on the part of the teacher. Yes, we have to get results, but we don’t always have to stipulate the methods. Allow the teachers to choose how they get to their goals. By doing so, they are being given the freedom to be innovative in the classroom.

Get students to solve ‘real’ problems

From observations, most of the projects I have seen students being given are not asking them to solve problems that they are currently facing. Don’t get me wrong; I am a big advocate for project-based learning. I believe that when students are asked to solve real and current problems and they see their solutions being used for everyone’s benefit, it will encourage them to become even more innovative.

Focus on skills

Teachers are always being encouraged to develop students’ 21st century skills. It is hugely important to focus on these skills if we want to foster innovation in students. Skills, such as collaboration and critical thinking are fundamental to the innovation process. Communication is also paramount but in my opinion, creativity is of vital importance. Information is everywhere, but developing the skills to access and effectively use this information will serve our students throughout their entire lives.

Encourage teamwork

Help students to form teams and learn to rely on each other to complete or improve on projects. Create an environment within teams, where students feel free to be able to, constructively criticise each other’s work. When we focus on teamwork instead of merely working in groups, we encourage students to value the talents and contributions of their fellow team members.

Reward innovation

I know this might be difficult to do given that our school systems are set up to reward students who get the highest scores on standardized tests, but look for every possible opportunity to reward innovation. It does not have to be the biggest reward but as I am often told by my mother, ‘encouragement sweetens labour’.

Administrators, be innovative yourself

To be innovative, you must be willing to fail. This is not easy for administrators to process, simply because our failures can have long-term negative effects on the school. On the other hand, the rewards can be great. Our willingness to be innovative in the way we run our schools can encourage creativity in teachers and students, which in turn makes teaching exciting and fun, engages students and help to foster innovation in our schools.

Even though Innovation Week has long ended, we still have the opportunity to be innovative in our approach in fostering creativity in our students.

By Leisa Simapili

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